What is Human Trafficking?

Definitions of Human Trafficking

Trafficking is often referred to as modern-day slavery. According to the definition used by Homeland Security “human trafficking involves the use of force, fraud or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act.”

Labor Trafficking occurs most often when someone is forced or coerced into working for little to no money in a factory, domestic servitude or manual labor type industry [source].

Here at Guardian Group we focus on sex trafficking, the trade of anything of value for a sex act through the use of force, fraud or coercion. When minors are induced into the commercial sex trade, force, fraud or coercion no longer need to be proven; exploiting a child for sex is a federal crime [18 U.S. Code § 1591] .

Both forms of trafficking may include movement across a border of some kind, but it is not required.

Sex trafficking is more than these basic definitions though. It is America’s daughters, sisters, mothers, nieces and sometimes America’s sons.

Sex Trafficking Statistics

The following statistics will give a brief overview of the depth of sex trafficking here in the United States. However, you must first understand that this crime is wildly under-reported and drastically under researched.

Unlike other statistics you have come across in your life, the following stats are living and breathing and have a pulse.

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The fastest growing criminal industry in the world is the buying and selling of people


If you think of this crime and these victims in the same manner a predator does, as a product or commodity, the rapid increase makes sense; a person can be sold for a sex act numerous times while a drug or weapon can only be sold once. The internet has also allowed this crime to scale at an incredible pace.

  The average age of entry into the sex trade is 15 years old for females, it is believed to be younger for males


What is every 15-year-old looking for? Love, understanding and acceptance, couple that with low self-esteem and it creates a perfectly vulnerable target.

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Child Sex Trafficking has been reported in all 50 states


This is no longer a crime that lives overseas despite what popular movies portray. This is a domestic problem requiring a national community-wide response.

55% of survivors report that they attended school at some point during their exploitation


Victims of this crime exist in society like everyone else, they walk into the same grocery stores, gas stations and down the same sidewalks.

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44% of victims reported no one reached out and offered them help out of “the life” with another 26% reporting rarely ever being offered help


We as a community must do better. It is time to educate our population and be willing to say something when we see something that looks suspicious.

The majority of buyers are male


There is no specific profile of a buyer. Buyers (aka Johns, tricks or dates) come from all backgrounds, races, ages and work forces. It is not uncommon for them to be married with children.

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What does Sex Trafficking Look Like?

Sex Trafficking can look a multitude of ways, every predator and victim have a unique story. The only common factor is that no one is immune. This crime effects those from every socioeconomic status, race, ethnicity and background. A history of child abuse, foster care or running away does increase the susceptibility of becoming a victim of sex trafficking, however, in that same vain not all victims share this background.

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Assessment and Recruitment

A predator looks for vulnerability within a victim.

For some it may be low self-esteem and a predator can easily spot these traits by simply watching how a young girl reacts when he calls her beautiful. If she lowers her head, she is potentially a good target.

Social media sites have allowed traffickers more opportunity for immediate connections and faster engagement with vulnerable youth.

The amount of information we freely offer to the world about ourselves makes it easier for traffickers to find their next victim without ever leaving the couch. Predators troll social sites to try and spot vulnerabilities, they are good at it, our goal is to be better in order to prevent potential victims.

A statement such as “My parents are the worst” or “I’m so over school” allows the predator to connect, relate and offer a solution to the victim.

One in six runaways will likely become a victim of child sex trafficking [source].

Survival sex is another form of child exploitation. This is the act of trading your body for a sexual act for a basic human need (i.e. food, clothing, shelter).


There is no single form of force, fraud or coercion used by predators. Each trafficker has their own style to gain the necessary power and control required to manipulate an individual into doing what he/she wants.

85% of victims reported developing a close relationship with their trafficker [source].

This portrays the Romeo Pimp tactic of manipulating and nurturing a relationship with their victim. They manipulate their victim into believing they are truly in a romantic relationship by buying them gifts, taking them out to eat and spoiling them in some form. This tactic creates a bond between victim and trafficker and often the victim believes they are selling themselves because it is how they contribute to the relationship.

The second type of trafficker is a Gorilla Pimp, this is the use of violence to gain control and power over their victims. A victim will do what they are told based on the fear of what will happen if they do not comply. Often a Romeo pimp will become violent after they have gained controll over their victim.

The last form of trafficking is familial trafficking. This is when a parent or family member pimps out their child for money, to pay the rent or to feed their drug habit.


The breaking phase occurs when a trafficker introduces his victim into “the life”. For some this can be very violent, including gang rapes, for others it may be giving an illicit massage to one of the predator’s friends.

Shame is often used to maintain power and control. Statements like: “You are just a whore now” “No one will believe you” “Your family won’t love you anymore” “You are the one committing a crime” may be used.

If recovery of a victim is not made prior to this breaking phase it becomes much more difficult.


Maintenance and Automatic

Once a victim has reached this phase they are basically running on autopilot. Continuing to comply in order to avoid whatever their trafficker has threatened them with. This could include fear of violence, fear of their family being harmed or feeling that they no longer have worth.

75% of victims reported being advertised online while in The Life after 2004 [source].

The use of technology has allowed traffickers to engage with buyers at a more frequent and widespread capacity. A predator can easily advertise online through various escort sites.

One in four victims surveyed reported that when advertised online they saw more than 10 buyers per day [source]

Imagine the trauma associated with 1 unwanted sexual encounter and multiply that by 10 each day.

Indicators of Human Trafficking

Victims of human trafficking function and exist in society in the same manner as you and me. This is not a crime that solely exists in some deep dark basement. Victims walk into the same restaurants, gas stations and grocery stores as everyone else.

Know the indicators and if you notice multiple or something that does not look or feel right report it.

Victims of human trafficking function and exist in society in the same manner as you and me. This is not a crime that solely exists in some deep dark basement. Victims walk into the same restaurants, gas stations and grocery stores as everyone else.

Know the indicators and if you notice something that does not look or feel right report it.

Indicators Community Wide:

Click on images to learn more

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Brands — tattoos of a rose, crown, money or someone’s name. Often on the neck or chest.

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A girl inappropriately dressed for her age or the weather conditions.

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A minor with someone during school-hours or late at night.

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A young person being demeaned or controlled by another person (often older than them). The young person does not make eye contact with others.

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Listen for words such as: The Game, The Life, Track, John or Trick, Bottom Girl or Bottom Bitch, Trap or Square.

A young girl will often refer to her trafficker as “Daddy” or “Boyfriend.”

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A victim may not be able to tell you where they are or where they just came from.

Indicators for Parents, Caregivers or Educators:

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Unexplained cash, new expensive clothing, jewelry, electronics or purses.

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Changes in behavior such as a sudden onset of depression, anger or appearance.

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Possession of a fake ID.

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References to modeling or music video jobs or an older boyfriend.

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Uncharacteristic promiscuous behavior or references in person or on social media to sexual situations.

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Sudden and frequent missed days of school or a drop in grades.

Indicators for Travelers:

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A hotel room that multiple men frequent at various intervals.

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Large amounts of cash, condoms, multiple cell phones or computers are found within a room.

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A guest frequently requesting new sheets or towels.

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An adult checking in with a minor or group of girls that do not appear to be their children.

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A young girl being dropped off at a hotel and the driver waiting in the parking lot.

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A young person checking in with no identification, no or few personal possessions (often carried in a plastic bag). They may be uncertain about personal information such as: address or phone number.

The Fight Law Enforcement is Up Against

By definition Law Enforcement exists to enforce laws making it difficult for them to intervene in potential trafficking situations online before a law has been broken. Law Enforcement also operate within jurisdictions. The transient nature of this crime allows traffickers to easily evade Law Enforcement by consistently moving from one jurisdiction to the next. The Counter Trafficking Training Guardian Group provides free to law enforcement across the nation exists to equip officers with the tools to proactively stop this crime.

150,000 new escort ads are posted online every day


Mixed into all those ads are children who are bought and sold for sex online. Law Enforcement officers lack the time and training necessary to locate a victim in a haystack so to say. The PURSUIT® Team within Guardian Group acts as a force multiplier. By investing the hours necessary looking at publicly available information (social media sites, escort ads etc…) and providing that information directly to Law Enforcement, officers are able to act quickly in order to recover victims and arrest predators.

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Why Don’t Victims Leave

This is a frequently asked question and the answer varies between situations. Abusers have reported directly these tactics for maintaining control over their victims.

Isolating her and breaking ties with any support system she had.

  • Taking all her money so she must depend on him for everything.
  • Forcing her to back him up on illegal activity in order to be able to hold it over her head if she tries to leave.
  • Moving a victim to another city, separating her from her family and friends

Making her afraid of leaving him.

  • Making it known that she would not get any money from him and if she left, she would be homeless and poor.
  • Convincing the victim that he’d find her wherever she ran too.
  • Threatening to kill her if she tried to leave.

Making her doubt her capability and sanity.

  • Keeping her awake at night, sleep deprivation makes it easier to control her.
  • Consistently telling her she is ugly and no one else would want her.
  • Playing mind games and convincing her she is crazy.

Convincing her that he deserves another chance.

  • Promising to change his ways.
  • Blaming the abuse on stress.
  • Promising to go to counseling but never following through.


Victims report being coached frequently on what to say if stopped by a police officer or questioned by a medical professional. Their trafficker will often run up their credit, purchase cars or rent apartments in their name making it harder for them to escape.

Often in a Romeo Pimp situation a victim does not identify as a victim. They feel shame or self-blame for allowing this person into their life. They feel the situation they are trapped in is a consequence of their choices. Victims in this type of situation often form a trauma bond with their exploiter and may have deep loyalties and positive feelings toward their trafficker [source].

What Role Can I play in Stopping Sex Trafficking?

Sex trafficking will not be stopped without a community wide response. Regardless of your place in life you can make an impact on this crime.

1. Volunteer

Use your Open-Source Intelligence (OSINT) skills for good and join Project 1591®. The first-ever 24/7 crowdsourcing process and platform that enables volunteers to become force multipliers to Guardian Group’s mission of illuminating child victims of sex trafficking in the United States.

Volunteer Today!

2. Join Team 1591

Inspired by the US law that protects children from being sold for sex, Team 1591 is a community of people committed to donating at least $15.91 every month to support victim identification and Guardian Group’s efforts right here in the United States.

Join the Team!

3. Other Ways to Give

Supporting organizations like Guardian Group is a vital aspect of combating this crime. Learn about the numerous ways to support financially with cash and non-cash giving options. Giving to Guardian Group results in more victims identified and more support to law enforcement across the nation. 

Learn More!

4. Raise Your Voice
Giving the victims of sex trafficking their voice back is vital! Utilize your favorite social media platform to educate those within your sphere of influence, to raise awareness and/or to fundraise for organizations like Guardian Group.


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